Many thanks to Tristan Morris for creating a beautiful illustrated hardcover print edition of the site


The abbot of the Laughing Monkey Clan observed that software produced by the abbey’s north hall had more defects than software produced by any other group of monks. Java master Banzen was called in to investigate.

The master selected a suitable conference room in the north hall. Seating himself within, he motioned for the abbot to join him. When the abbot was also seated the master unpacked his lunch from a paper sack and began eating. The abbot waited silently, with ever-waning patience.

Finally the master finished the last bite of his meal. He crumpled up the paper sack and threw it at the waste bin in the corner of the room. The ball missed the rim by a good three feet, bounced off the wall, and rolled to a stop next to the bin. Banzen went out.

The abbot followed, thinking: Banzen’s devotion to perfection is too much praised in the temple. Still, the rising moon makes an excellent circle but a poor square.

Banzen then bade the abbot to summon the monks of the north hall one by one. Each monk was told to meet the master and the abbot outside the selected conference room. Each was also instructed to bring printouts of all code he had authored within the past thirty days.

Whenever a monk appeared, Banzen said: “Give me your code listings and wait in that room, for I have been asked to investigate you.” Each monk entered the conference room as he was told, whereupon Banzen closed the door, leaving the monk in the room alone. Banzen then placed the monk’s papers face-down on an ever-growing pile outside the room. When precisely five minutes had passed Banzen would open the door and enter, saying, “You have been investigated.” The monk would then be dismissed.

The abbot thought: Banzen’s moon is lost behind a cloud. Still, the night is not yet over.

Banzen repeated this ritual for all twelve monks of the north hall. When the last monk had departed, Banzen left the abbey without another word. Of the listings he had examined not a single page.

The abbot said to himself: a wind has scrubbed the sky, and Banzen’s moon is not even half-full. I must summon the head abbess.

Thus was old Jinyu called to the conference room. She in turn summoned Banzen.

“What is the fault of the north hall?” asked Jinyu.

Banzen pointed. “That ball of paper still lying in the corner.”

Qi’s commentary

What was done was expected; but what was not done was what mattered. If you cannot see the fault, the north hall awaits you.

Qi’s poem

A mountain of source code towers in the hall:
the labor of twelve monks from moon to moon.
A merchant’s scale may balance fish against coins,
but one paper sack defeats it.

Topics...  neatness